Da da da dum, da da da dum, it’s the Royal Potato Family! Just after Halloween, the leaders of the Royal Potato Family music label, the Marco Benevento trio, presented themselves as the eccentric band you’d like to live next to. They are a modern day Addams Family with Marco (keys) as the charismatic and debonair fearless leader Gomez, the quirky and lovable Phester portrayed by Dave Dreiwitz (bass) and the very appreciated Hand taken on by Andy Borger (drums) who allows his handi-work behind the skins to do his talking. The trio mesmerized and entranced a nearly sold-out and classy Cutting Room venue in New York City on Saturday, November 16th.
One naturally can’t equate it to Kennedy being shot, but it’s safe to say that one will always remember the first time they were introduced to Marco “The Wonderful Wizard of Weird” Benevento’s music – his indelible impression is that special. No tiger costume was necessary this time, no abundant funny esoteric banter, but rather professional musicians showing their wares in exemplary fashion. Women are enticed by his rugged boy next door aesthetics while men are addicted to the contagious sounds emanating from the laid back musician’s frenetic fingers which exude a cool confident style.
In Italian, “Bene” means “good” and “vento” means “wind” and like an easy wind blowing across the room, Marco delivered his magic. Marco’s appearance and witty banter may make one think of Zach Galifianakis., but he would prefer the uber-talented Kris Kristofferson to play him in a movie. He admires Brad Mehldau and listens to McCoy Tyner. The band leader’s foray into open-ended improvisations and compelling instrumental songs take over a room and add a pervasive sense of wonder. The music evolves over time; it slowly unfolds, becoming more precise and better – perhaps this is why Marco is garnering such an exponentially larger and fervent fan base than ever. Like a Willy Wonka tour guide, he invites one into an enchanted fantasy where one feels like anything is possible.
Benevento, a Berklee School of Music grad, is a relentless touring machine, consistently darting around the country at different stops including many of the most prestigious festivals. Benevento explained why his campfire set at Equifunk Festival, that euphorically pushed on until sunrise, has grown to legendary status: “Piano players take care of all the parts; the rhythm, the bass, the chords, the melody. You can really supply entertainment through the evening and I love that part about music.”
The kinetic carnival took place at the jazzy and upscale, CUTTING ROOM, where one can also enjoy a nice sit-down meal or meander upstairs to one of the small balconies, allowing one a different musical experience than at the usual fray. With typical Benevento style, it was advertised that one would be entered to win 1/2 dozen eggs and pickles from Marco’s farm in the Hudson Valley with an advance ticket purchase. Benevento uses modified electronic toys like circuit benders and others to share his music in a different way. The unique sound was evident during the shows upbeat opener, “Real Morning Party.” It’s a departure from some of his darker and jazzier cuts, but a truly effective upbeat crowd pleaser that asks attendees to sing along to the simple chorus of screams. With colored lights adorning the walls above the stage, the song smoothly segued into the hypnotic and sometimes melancholy “Atari” from the 2006, Invisible Baby album, a tune which has also been played relentlessly in the rotation for good reason – it is a solid joyous romp. Benevento is known to play many of the same songs in his live show rotation, but the beauty is they are lightning caught in a bottle – it never sounds the same way twice.
Marco is known for playing exemplary exquisite covers like “Benny and the Jets” and “You Know I’m No Good” and on this night he delivered a stellar and wild take on The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian.” However, the highlight of the evening’s festivities was the addition of Alex Toth, bandleader and trumpet player for Rubblebucket. His inclusion onstage was unrehearsed and unplanned (Toth is the boyfriend of Kal Traver, who has sang the only vocals ever on any Marco record). His addition to the trio added an additional rich layer with his bombastic brass for the song, “RISD”. Toth bounced about on stage while delivering an improvisational frenzy to the senses and bringing the known classic to another level. Marco has previously explained that three or four new songs have been added to the live repertoire, with many more written, but not thrown into the mix yet. Fans should look out for “Silvertone”, a very catchy and fun song most fans heard for the first time at Equifunk.
Fans can get reacquainted and entertained with Benevento in some fun upcoming gigs. The Complete Last Waltz, a recreation of The Band’s 1976 farewell concert, will take place at the historic Capitol Theatre on November 27th with Marco playing the role of Garth Hudson. In December, Marco will headline the Share the Music Live! Benefit for Bread & Roses at The Chapel in San Francisco. He will join his compatriot from The Duo and Bustle in Your Hedgerow, Joe Russo, for the Russo’s Almost Dead show at the Cap in late December. There is much to be excited about in terms of Marco. He is currently working on his fifth album, and it will see him including his own vocals for the first time. Marco makes new fans in droves every time he plays, and at the rate he’s performing, he should be the premiere piano player in the rock/jam scene for years to come.